Expect to see those bright yellow hats out and about on Lake Hopatcong in the coming weeks—the Water Scouts are back, and have their target set on the invasive water chestnut species once again.
This year, dozens of volunteers will be scouring the shores and shallow areas of the lake from June 17 to July 5—later than they did last year, but for good reason, as Tim Clancy of the Knee Deep Club, who is leading the effort through the Knee Deep Club, explained. “Last year I was concerned that we started just a bit early and that the plants may not have been visible enough for easy detection,” he said, adding that the group was also preemptively going after the plant for the first time 2010, so they wanted to be sure that if any large colonies were detected they would have enough time to develop and implement a removal plan before the plants went to seed in August. The search window is also longer to accommodate volunteers’ busy schedules, especially in mid- to late-June.
Because of the search, one colony was discovered on the lake for the first time—in Landing channel—and was promptly removed. (Water Scout Stacey Sellaro gets credit for the sighting.) “After last year's tremendous success I'm very confident that we are not going to find any of the multi-year large colonies that we were concerned about in our first survey, so we can allow for the plants to grow and become more visible and easier to identify, and [we’ll] still have ample time to eradicate them,” Clancy said.
The Water Scout effort, started by the Knee Deep Club in partnership with a variety of local paddling groups, began in the spring of 2010 to address the potential spreading of the water chestnut, with the idea that early detection would be better than reacting to a crisis down the road. By signing on those who kayak and canoe around the lake, the club had enlisted those who were closest to the water surface to search for any sign of the fast-growing weed. “You couldn’t be any closer to the water unless you were swimming,” Clancy said.
The water chestnut, an invasive species that can destroy natural habitats and has already sprouted and spread across parts of Lake Musconetcong, starts with a seed that has four barb-like prongs. It can be introduced to Lake Hopatcong by boaters who didn’t properly clean their equipment or by sticking to the feathers of geese, ducks, and other birds. Once the seed embeds itself in the lake bottom (particularly shallow areas without much turbulence), a stringy plant grows toward the surface, creating clusters of leaves called rosettes. Each leaf is about 2 inches wide, serrated with an arrowhead shape, and the rosettes can multiply quickly, with each producing up to 20 seeds (which can remain dormant for more than a decade). The result is a lake surface covered in green, and a body of water deprived of sunlight and, therefore, aquatic life.
“The plants that were pulled this year would have barely filled a laundry basket but they could have released over 15,000 seeds into the lakebed” Clancy said. “So to say that this massive effort was well worth it would be a major understatement.”
The Knee Deep Club plans to hold a refresher course and an introduction to the search for returning and new Water Scouts, at a date to be determined. For more information about the Water Scouts effort or to get involved, contact Tim Clancy at email@example.com. To learn more about the WATER SCOUTS program, visit http://www.kneedeepclub.org and select Water Chestnut Scout Project on the left menu bar.